Sunday, November 28, 2010

Seeker's Journey: The Village

Seeker greeted the next morning with great excitement and faith, reassured by the messages of those who had traveled the unmarked path he had discovered and confident that it led to a wondrous destination.  Fear and doubt were still present as he traveled, but they were quiet and unobtrusive.  Before long, Seeker came upon a village and was overjoyed to see its activity.

In the village, there seemed to be many small gaggles of people, and in most of the clusters, many people stood enraptured by a nuclear figure, a speaker of some kind or a person engaged in some intriguing activity.  Some of the people looked as though they had been listening for quite some time, and yet they were captivated by what they heard.  Before long, Seeker realized that this place was like many on his map of destinations, and he quickly unfolded and consulted the map.  He had been to some similar destinations, and there were many more indicated as possibilities: MBA, Community College, Law School, State University, Medical School, and on and on.  Some of those destinations were very specific with regard to quality and location, and some were more general, but they were all sites of learning.

Sites of learning had been a distinct pleasure for Seeker, for he loved to gain new knowledge, and so he began to take in what the village had to offer.  One group was listening to a speaker convey the secrets of finding hidden treasures in the nearby mountains.  It was an interesting topic, but Seeker had obviously missed some essential information at the beginning of the discussion, so he wandered a bit and observed some of the other goings-on.  He saw one individual sitting on the ground, grabbing handfuls of mud and slowly smearing it on his face.  An onlooker whispered, “How profound!” 

Although it increasingly became a challenge, Seeker tried to keep an open mind and benefit from the wisdom of the enlightened people in this village.  One woman claimed to have incontrovertible proof of the existence of extraterrestrial visitors as she held up what was quite obviously an empty pie tin.  Several people claimed to have been contacted by spiritual beings bearing messages of truth, but none of them seemed to have received the same messages.   Some people were unable to share their complete knowledge adequately to the gathered crowd, but had written their secrets down in volumes which were available for purchase.  Little by little, Seeker’s bright, wide-eyed smile began to ebb as he became more and more skeptical of the knowledge to be gained in this site of learning.

A bit disheartened and frustrated, Seeker trudged back to the outskirts of the village.  He was comforted when he saw that his uncharted path continued on past the village.  This, at least, was not the end of the road.  There could be something better ahead, something that had more substance, more truth.  Just then, Seeker heard an unexpected voice near the path ask, “Disappointed?”

He looked to see a large, free-standing window overlooking the path and seemingly connected to nothing.  As he approached, he responded, “Quite disappointed, actually.  I had hoped to learn something.”
“Didn’t you?” queried the reflection in the glass.

Seeker pondered the question, and was about to respond when the reflection asked, “Wasn’t the hammock and the fire a nice surprise?”

“Yes.  Yes it was.”  Seeker’s face lit up a bit and his shoulders relaxed.  The reflection smiled back, and Seeker was filled with a sense of comfort and peace.  He decided that he was finished with the village, and he continued down the path.  He didn’t consult his map of destinations, but he wondered what such a place as that village might be called.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Seeker's Journey: An Emerging Fear

Seeker started off down the uncharted road brimming with anticipation and excited to be on such an unexpected adventure.  Beautiful and captivating sights and sounds were all about for one willing to notice, the simple gifts of nature.  Here a cluster of flowers occupies a hummingbird, there a trio of squirrels chase one another across the surface of an ancient-looking oak.  Beyond them in the distance was a backdrop of immense, rugged mountain contours, constant sentinels since before any person crested their ridges.  Seeker was surrounded by wonder.

But as Seeker traveled, fascination with the wondrous surroundings gave way to other thoughts.  This path was not on his map of known routes to anywhere.  Perhaps it didn't actually lead to any destination at all.  That was unlikely, since evidence suggested that the road at least passed through Serenity-in-Solitude, and Natural Wonder, but perhaps the path eventually led to someplace less pleasant.  A destination that Seeker never intended or desired.  Or perhaps the path was dangerous.  It was pleasant enough now, but who knew what unseen risks and perils might lurk ahead?  Seeker confessed aloud, I honestly have no idea where this will lead.

Turning around was always a possibility.  It wasn't too late.  The path had not forked, and there was no chance of getting lost on the way back to familiar territory.  And yet, his feet still carried him forward.  Something appealing about this unpaved road still piqued Seeker's curiosity, and so he continued on with fearful conjectures competing for his attention with the pleasures of the journey.

Even as he wrestled with his fears, the path continued to immerse him in new details of wonder.  Kaleidoscopic patterns of light as the sun filtered through leaves swaying in the wind's gentle breathing.  A colony of caterpillars in various stages of encasing themselves for transformation.  The discarded skin of a local snake, curled like a brittle stocking.  Each small wonder confirmed that the trip had been worthwhile, at least for that moment.

But as night began to fall, the fears began to win.  What had seemed like a path worth exploring now seemed like a mistake.  What if there is never anyone else along this journey?  You might be alone forever.  What if there was no meaningful work at the end of this trail?  Everything would be a struggle.  You will have to find the way to a desirable destination from a completely unknown location.  You acted too rashly and now you will have to pay the consequences.  You will be isolated and alone and unprepared in an unknown place.  Are you satisfied with entertaining your curiosity now?  All the hummingbirds and cocoons and snake scales in the world can't bring you safety and comfort.

Seeker's frustrating diatribe against himself ceased suddenly when he came across an unexpected sight.  Off to the side of the path, there was a campfire.  A hammock was strung between two sturdy old trees.  At the base of one of the trees was a trunk with a small engraved sign on top: Rest well, and be sure to share about your journey.  Seeker looked around, but there wasn't another soul in sight.  He called out, but the crackling of the fire was the only response.  So he opened the trunk and pulled it a little closer to the firelight.

In the trunk was a small basket of fresh fruit and bread, and an expensive-looking pen on top of some kind of scrapbook.  Seeker gingerly took the book and opened its pages to find that many different hands had written upon its pages.  Others before him had written about the unexpected path, the natural beauty they encountered, the fear that had gripped them all at some point.  Some people had sketched animals or plants they had seen along the way.  A few had written poems or songs about their experience.  None of them seemed to know where the path actually led, but Seeker found their writings comforting and encouraging.  He was not alone in this journey.

Then, Seeker came to a blank page.  He looked at it for a moment, slowly biting into a piece of fruit as he considered all that he had experienced in a short time.  With profound trust, he took the ornate pen and began to write by the flickering of the campfire.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Seeker's Journey: The Unexpected Path

A cloud of dust enveloped the car as Seeker pulled off to the side of the road.  Something had piqued his interest, and being the curious sort, he stopped to check it out.  Leading off away from the road was an unpaved trail, a route Seeker had never noticed before.  As the dust settled, Seeker emerged from his car with three maps in his hand, and he studied them.

One map held only destinations.  Seeker had been to some of them, and he had been told that many others were "must see" locations.  The most desirable destinations had names like Happy Marriage, Financial Security, Meaningful Work, and Healthy Children.  Other destinations were on the map, too.  Dead-End Job, Credit Card Debt, Hopeless Addiction . . . places that one may pass through or get stuck in, but not places that people were clamoring to find.  Sometimes it was hard to tell which was which just by a name on the map, but once a person spent time in a place, its character became more apparent.

It had been easier for Seeker to find his way to some desirable locations because of a second map he possessed.  Although the second map had no destinations marked, it conveyed the routes that one might take.  The map indicated which routes were easy, which were challenging, and which were somewhere in between.  It revealed which paths were well-traveled and which would make for lonely journeys.  Some roads had special requirements, like training in a specific skill or approval of a particular person, and some were patently unsafe.  When Seeker remembered to compare the two maps, he had been able to discern manageable routes to some of the destinations he had been encouraged to find.

This unknown trail leading off the well-traveled road was something of a conundrum.  Here was a clear route that someone had surely traveled before, and yet there was no indication of it on his map.  Since Seeker had never come across an obvious road that didn't appear on the map, he initially doubted that he even saw the odd road at all.  When his eyes remained convinced that the unpaved trail was indeed a reality, he began to doubt his ability to read the map.  But after a moment of getting his bearings, he surmised that this curious trail had somehow escaped being transcribed upon the map he possessed.  He wondered where it led.

It was obvious that his destination map could not shed any light on the trail, and his map of routes was of no use here.  So, Seeker opened the third map he had, a cartographic wonder that someone special had given him long ago.  He had never needed it before, since the other two maps had served him in every other circumstance.  As Seeker unfolded the page, he secretly hoped that it would give him a good reason to explore that mysterious trail.  The third map was unlike the other two in its simplicity.  It was comprised of a single symbol, an arrow pointing in one specific direction.  When Seeker oriented the page toward the unpaved road, it became clear that the arrow pointed directly down the intriguing trail.

With a burst of exuberance, Seeker grabbed a few necessities and locked his car.  He so wanted to find out where the new path led.  A sense of wonder and excitement enfolded him as he set off in an unknown direction, imagining where it might lead.

To be continued...

Sunday, November 7, 2010

In Sync with Me

Jung's concept of synchronicity is a featured concept in Julia Cameron's The Artist's Way, which I have been working through with a few friends over the past several weeks.  Essentially, synchronicity is "the experience of two or more events that are apparently causally unrelated occurring together in a meaningful manner."  In other words, seemingly connected events that don't have a high probability of happening concurrently.  While I am much more prone to labeling such things as coincidences unless they are uncannily pertinent to what I'm doing personally, I have been trying to notice when events seem to be lining up in a significant way.  Perhaps this willingness and intentionality on my part has contributed to a feeling of being "in sync" with my life.

Most theories of personal growth and development postulate an even number of phases, cycling through focusing inward and focusing on something external.  The first phase is usually something akin to survival, concentrating all of one's energy toward getting the basic necessities.  A second phase (if one is able to trust that survival will happen) is often adopting an external set of rules or goals, whether they originate from a church, a political organization, or some other institution with established beliefs.  The next phase would be integrating the meaningful beliefs from outside oneself into a period of defining personal identity.  And once deeper self-actualization has taken place, the following phase would address how to engage with the broader society, or at least some portion of it.  I can see this pattern at work when I look backward at my journey, but I have often been wrestling with whatever phase I've been in.

When I was clearly (looking back) in phases of clarifying personal values, I was also often struggling to engage more purposefully with a larger group.  And sometimes when I have accepted a prominent role within a larger group, I have found myself confronted with challenges about what beliefs are most meaningful to me personally.  While the internal and external work can be in balance, I have frequently tried to force myself to focus in a particular direction when I wasn't actually in the "right" phase to do so.  I have wanted to guard against being focused too narrowly and missing some important piece of personal doctrine.  Certain beliefs about what life "ought" to be about have served better at some junctures than others.  To put it another way, I haven't always been willing to let myself grow because I was afraid of what beliefs I might grow out of.

Everyone has a doctrinea system of beliefs they live by.  Some piece of a person's doctrine may be incorporated from external sources, and some may come from an internal sense of what's important or how things should be.  But at some point, the beliefs have to become personal if they are going to have deep value.  Living by a doctrine that someone else created for you doesn't reflect integrity.  That's just a sort of irresponsible obedience.  Integrity comes from taking a personal stand for one's own life, claiming a personal set of beliefs not to judge right and wrong in others but to identify what has true personal value.

At some points in my life, the beliefs that primarily informed my decisions were actually different from what I thought I should believe.  I was in conflict with my own doctrine, but I didn't realize it at the time.  Now, I have been taking time to really think about what beliefs are really potent for me.  I have been giving myself permission to be honest about what's most important to me, without worrying about what might get left behind if I focus in a direction that has personal importance.  Trusting myself, with some confidence in what I have been recognizing as valuable for me, I find a strange appropriate-ness in the opportunities I am creating and discovering.

While I may have told myself so in the past as a reassurance or believed it intellectually, I feel in a very deep way that I am in exactly the right place at exactly the right moment in my life.  It's not synchronicity, but I believe that noticing the "rightness" of my experience comes from being conscious of my personal doctrine and aware of how I am able to engage life in a meaningful way.  And when I know that what I believe makes sense, fear has a lot less of a foothold.